This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf
Bobby Malkmus was a small, light-hitting, versatile middle infielder who made his major-league debut for the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 during their frantic midseason search for a second baseman. Poor hitting (2-for 22) and the club’s acquisition of All-Star Red Schoendienst marked the end of the Malkmus experiment after less than four weeks. Malkmus returned to play in parts of five additional seasons with the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies and established a reputation of having a “big-league glove” at second base, shortstop, and third base.
Robert Edward Malkmus was born on July 4, 1931, in Newark, New Jersey, to Robert and Elizabeth Malkmus. His father was a press setter at a print shop and his mother was a homemaker. In an interview given after his big-league playing days were over, Malkmus said that he started playing baseball because his mother did not allow his two older brothers (Harold and Bill) to play unless they included him. “The competition was good for me,” said Malkmus. “[The other] kids didn’t like the idea of having a younger kid around, though.” Even his older sister, Margaret, was included as the manager one year. Having grown up with modest means during the Depression and war years, Malkmus recalled how special he felt when he had his first uniform: “We didn’t have organized leagues. We didn’t have uniforms either until one year we scraped up $5 and pitched in to get suits. Man, we thought that was something special, having uniforms.”
Malkmus was a standout at basketball and baseball at South Side High School in Newark, but few scouts gave the slightly built (5-feet-9 and about 160 pounds) second baseman a serious look. “After scouts told me I couldn’t make it in baseball,” recalled Malkmus, “I enrolled in St. Benedict’s Prep School [after graduating from South Side in 1949]. I wasn’t such a hot student in high school and I was trying to get ready for college.” Malkmus continued playing baseball and basketball and caught the attention of Boston Braves scout John “Honey” Russell. “He decided to take a chance and signed me,” said Malkmus.
Malkmus’s professional career got off to a promising start with the Bluefield (West Virginia) Blue-Grays in the Class D Appalachian League in 1951. Called “Scooter” in one Sporting News report, Malkmus played in the All-Star game and was named to the league’s All-Rookie team after hitting .273 in 469 at-bats.
Malkmus was drafted into the US Navy and missed the entire 1952 and 1953 seasons. Assigned to the Evansville (Indiana) Braves in the Class B Three-I League in 1954, he excelled as a slick-fielding second baseman who had some pop in his bat. He hit for the cycle on September 4 as Evansville beat the Peoria Chiefs to win the league championship. Finishing the season with a .295 batting average in 522 at-bats, the speedy Malkmus was named to the All-Star team and added to the Milwaukee Braves’ 40-man roster at the conclusion of the season.
Malkmus married his high-school sweetheart, Ruth Norma (Bischoff), on September 6, 1952, while he was still in the Navy. They lived their entire life together in northern New Jersey, where they raised a son and a daughter. A quiet, unassuming person, Malkmus had dark hair, brown eyes, and a dark complexion; however, by the time he debuted in the big leagues, he was almost completely bald.
Each spring from 1955 to 1957 Malkmus reported to Bradenton, Florida, for spring training with the Braves. Second base was seemingly locked up by Danny O’Connell at the time, and utilityman Jack Dittmer was a capable replacement in 1955 and 1956. Nonetheless Malkmus made an impression with his gritty determination and unwavering perseverance. Optioned each year, Malkmus worked his way up the minor-league ladder, going from the Jacksonville Braves of the Class A South Atlantic League (1955) and the Austin Senators of the Double-A Texas League in 1956 to the Wichita Braves of the Triple-A American Association in 1957. Along the way, his batting averaged improved from .243 to .291 making him an even more promising big leaguer.
While The Sporting News suggested the Malkmus had a good chance to make the Braves out of camp in 1957, the situation at second base became more complicated with the emergence of Felix Mantilla, an athletic minor-league shortstop, who the Braves thought could be converted to a second baseman. Furthermore, Braves manager Fred Haney acquired light-hitting infielder Dick Cole, one of his trusted players from his days piloting the Pittsburgh Pirates, as O’Connell’s primary backup.
Even before the 1957 season began, it was clear that second base was the weak link in an otherwise outstanding Braves infield that had All-Stars at third base (Eddie Mathews) and shortstop (Johnny Logan) and Joe Adcock at first. By late May O’Connell was batting in the .230s and his range at second had worsened considerably. Braves first-base coach Connie Ryan lobbied in favor of promoting Malkmus, whom he had managed in Austin. On May 30 Milwaukee recalled Malkmus to replaced Cole (batting just .125). “[It is a] move of desperation to alleviate a second-base weakness that had grown more acute than ever with the general decline of Danny O’Connell’s play,” reported The Sporting News.
Malkmus’s tenure with the Braves was brief – just 13 games and 25 plate appearances before he was reassigned to Wichita on June 23. In the first of six consecutive starts at second base, Malkmus debuted on June 1 by going 0-for-4 as the leadoff hitter in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Hitless in his first 15 at-bats, Malkmus rapped an eighth-inning triple against the New York Giants on June 5 in the Polo Grounds for his first hit, and then scored the game-deciding final run in a 9-8 victory. According to Malkmus, the following game signaled the end of his career with the Braves. “I’m playing second base,” he recounted, “and Felix Mantilla is at shortstop. Just as he told me to cover second base if the ball was hit to the mound, it happened, and my mind froze. I just stood there.” Malkmus played only three more innings at second base for the Braves. On June 15 the Braves acquired the veteran Red Schoendienst from the Giants in a multiplayer deal that included O’Connell. Reduced to pinch-running and pinch-hitting duties, Malkmus (batting 2-for 22, .091) was reassigned to Wichita and Cole was recalled.
Deeply religious, Malkmus relied on his faith to guide him through setbacks. In fact, his teammates on various minor-league teams and the Braves called him “Preacher,” “Rev,” and “Deacon” because he was always seen with a Bible and made references to the Bible and religion in the locker room. “When guys found out I was serious,” said Malkmus, “they respected me for my beliefs and some even came to me when they had problems and wanted to talk.” Throughout his playing career and afterward, Malkmus spoke about faith and sports at churches, youth groups, and YMCA’s.
In December 1957 the Washington Senators selected Malkmus in the annual Rule 5 draft. The Sporting News noted his “distinguished” minor-league record, but said that “nobody in the Braves organization was overly concerned” with his departure. Senators manager Cookie Lavagetto announced that Malkmus would have first shot at winning the second-base job in 1958. Malkmus started eight of the first ten games of the season but batted just .160 (4-for 25) and lost the job. The Sporting News described the team’s malaise at second base as a big “disappointment”; the team used five players (Ossie Alvarez, Ken Aspromonte, Malkmus, Herb Plews, and Jerry Snyder) at the position. On the roster the entire season, Malkmus batted .186 (13-for-70).
Malkmus honed his hitting and fielding for Estrellas in the Dominican winter league and arrived at the Senators’ spring training in 1959 ready to challenge for the second-base position again. But a weak-hitting spring dropped him to the fourth option behind offseason acquisition and eventual Opening Day starter Reno Bertoia, and backups Aspromonte and Plews. Malkmus was used just six times as a pinch-runner before his contract was sold to the Triple-A Denver Bears (American Association) in early May
For Malkmus, unable to break through on two teams with major holes at second base, the future appeared bleak. However, he responded in Denver by hitting a career-high .300 and belting 16 home runs. Even more importantly, he had a stroke of luck at the end of the season. Former Braves general manager John Quinn had assumed the same position with the Phillies in 1959. In light of the Phillies’ unstable and inexperienced infield, Quinn selected Malkmus in the Rule 5 draft in November 1959.
Malkmus received another break when Gene Mauch was named the Phillies’ new skipper two games into the 1960 season. Mauch appreciated Malkmus’s versatility and viewed him as an ideal piece in his constant shuffling of players and his strategy of late-inning replacements. Malkmus started games at shortstop (7), second base (17), and third base (8), was a late-inning defensive replacement in all three positions 32 times, and served as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. On September 15 at Connie Mack Stadium, Malkmus clubbed his first big-league home run, a grand slam off the San Francisco Giants’ Sam Jones to tie the score in the sixth inning of an eventual extra-inning loss. Starting at second base the following evening in Milwaukee, he was involved in a memorable game. With two outs in the ninth inning facing Warren Spahn, Malkmus hit a screeching liner back to the mound. Spahn reached for the ball reflexively, but it ricocheted off his glove, only to be scooped up by shortstop Logan, who threw to Adcock at first to record the final out in Spahn’s first career no-hitter. Malkmus finished the season with a .211 batting average (28-for-133) for the last-place Phillies.
Malkmus proved that he had a big-league glove, but he could not overcome his weak hitting to secure a starting position even, in an era when infielders were not expected to hit for a high average or for power. The Phillies were an especially weak team in 1961, losing 107 games in the final year before National League expansion, ranking last in runs scored, batting, and earned-run average. Described as a “glove whiz,” Malkmus started 55 games at second base, 16 at shortstop, and 10 at third, and served as a defensive replacement on more than 30 other occasions. For the first time in his career, he enjoyed long stretches as a starter when he replaced the injured Tony Taylor at second base in July and September. For the season he hit .231 (79-for-342) and belted seven of his eight career home runs. He exacted a bit of personal revenge against Spahn on August 20, when he hit a two-run homer off the 40-year-old pitcher to account for the Phillies’ only runs in a 5-2 loss to the Braves in County Stadium. Malkmus recorded three hits in a game three times and connected for a career-high four safeties, including his last big-league round-tripper, in a 16-inning win over the Pirates on September 23. Despite his utilityman status, Malkmus received one vote for the NL MVP award, the only Phillie to receive any consideration.
Notwithstanding Malkmus’s success in 1961, the future of the Phillies’ infield rested in the hands of second baseman Taylor and shortstop Ruben Amaro, both just 26 years old, and 27-year-old slugging third baseman Don Demeter. With these middle-infield players healthy in 1962, Malkmus had little opportunity to play. After just five at-bats and one appearance as a defensive replacement through mid-May, Malkmus was optioned to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons of the International League. He was replaced by 23-year-old shortstop Bobby Wine. Splitting his time among second base, shortstop, and third base, Malkmus hit .278 in 453 at-bats for the Bisons.
A student of the game, Malkmus was groomed by the Phillies to transition into coaching. For the next four years he played for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliates, the Arkansas Travelers (1963-1965) and San Diego Padres (1966), and served as a player-coach under manager Frank Lucchesi in the last three seasons. Still a versatile fielder, Malkmus saw his average fall to .212 in 1965 before he experienced a rejuvenation of sorts in the warm, arid climate of Southern California, where he equaled his career high by batting .300 in 1966, his last full season as a player.
Malkmus finished with a .215 average (123-for-572) in a big-league career spread over six seasons and connected for 1,294 hits, good for a .269 average, in his 12-year minor-league career.
In 1967 Malkmus embarked on a nine-year career as minor-league manager when Philadelphia named him skipper of the Eugene (Oregon) Emeralds of the short-season Class A Northwest League. He guided the team to a second-place finish and was named the league’s Manager of the Year. Malkmus led the Spartanburg (South Carolina) Phillies of the Class A Western Carolinas League to the league finals in 1968 before falling to fifth place the following season.
Malkmus was a patient manager who empathized with the young players (most of them right out of high school) who felt pressure trying to fulfill their dreams. “These are young kids and they have a tendency to get down on themselves,” he said in an interview in 1971 during the second of two campaigns skippering talent-bare Single-A clubs in the Montreal Expos organization. “Things could always be worse,” he often said to his players and then told the story of the 23-game losing streak he experienced as a member of the 1961 Phillies. (The streak ended when the Phillies beat the Braves in Milwaukee, 7-4, and Malkmus went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two runs batted in.)
Malkmus guided four different lower-level teams in the Baltimore Orioles organization to winning records in four consecutive years, including a league championship with the Lewiston (Idaho) Broncs in the Northwest League in 1972. When Hank Peters replaced Frank Cashen as Orioles general manager after the 1975 season, he re-evaluated the club’s farm system and let Malkmus go. Malkmus finished with a 508-463 career record as a manager.
In 1980 the Cleveland Indians named Malkmus an area scout responsible for New Jersey, New York, and eastern Pennsylvania. As of 2013, Malkmus still scouted part-time. A baseball lifer, he has been active in various baseball schools, academies, and camps. He served on the board of advisers for the Jack Cust Baseball Academy in Flemington, New Jersey, named after the New Jersey resident and former big leaguer Malkmus scouted. Inducted into the Newark Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995, Malkmus still resided in northern New Jersey as of 2013.
Last revised: July 1, 2014
This biography is included in the book “Thar’s Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves” (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.
The Sporting News
 The Sporting News, August 9, 1961, 20.
 Tony Petrella, “Bobby Malkmus. The Job: Training Kids to Play Major League Baseball,” Palm Beach Post, May 30, 1971, E4.
 The Sporting News, July 25, 1951, 31; September 26, 1951, 38.
 The Sporting News, September 15, 1954, 41.
 The Sporting News, October 31, 1956, 6.
 The Sporting News, March 20, 1957, 24.
 The Sporting News, November 6, 1957, 8.
 The Sporting News, June 12, 1957, 11.
 The Sporting News, June 19, 1957, 16.
 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957, 22.
 The Sporting News, January 1, 1958, 21.
 The Sporting News, April 9, 1958, 16.
 The Sporting News, August 9, 1961, 20.
 The Sporting News, October 7, 1967, 52.